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A beginners guide to Hybrid training part 4: Hydration, recovery & monitoring training

Now we are onto the final instalment of concurrent training. Firstly, well done for making it through parts 1, 2 & 3.  They are big reads, so.. kudos!.

In today’s article, We will be looking at monitoring, hydration and recovery for concurrent training. It’s easy to overlook, but monitoring training and ensuring you are looking after your recovery is important for any programme. But, due to the high intensity & dual focus nature of concurrent training it is of particular importance. If you are not monitoring and manipulating training load at necessary times, and your hydration and recovery is pretty poor you are going to gas out fast. Reaching at best a state of non-functional overreaching, at worst picking up a moderate – severe injury which side-lines you. So we will begin by looking at monitoring training.

Monitoring training

Now, for some of the things being discussed in monitoring, you may need some tech or equipment. However, many of you will probably already have some of this tech (or very close to considering purchasing). For some metrics, it will make your life a whole lot easier.

The obvious starting point for monitoring is your training intensity and training volume. Now this may seem fairly intuitive, but you need to ensure you are tracking both your resistance training sessions as well as your cardiovascular sessions. There is 0 sense in tracking one training type, and not the other. So, track how much tin you’re lifting, track how far you’re running, cycling, swimming etc, and keep an eye on the training load (both volume and intensity). Volume load (total work done) can be useful for tracking progress, as well as providing information on state of readiness. If you are working at a certain load, and you notice your touching on non-functional overreaching (i.e overcooking a bit) you can record what this workload is, and reduce. This information can also be carried forward into subsequent blocks.

Looking at intensity, you need to ensure you are not pushing too close to max effort to often. Training at too high an intensity for too long will result in fatigue (both peripheral and central) and negatively impact training. The reason being, is the central nervous system (CNS) suffers from decreased drive, resulting in decreased performance. When this happens, it indicates you are edging toward non-functional overreaching. Which increases your likelihood of injury (particularly repetitive strain injuries), as well as decreasing performance. This state (if left unchecked and hard training continues) will result in overtraining syndrome. This condition can take months to recover from, and often requires total rest, and then a gentle reintroduction of training. The good news is, that true overtraining is quite hard to achieve, and is usually found in semi pro > pro athletes. Most people don’t have the grit to push on when they are a little over cooked (and this is absolutely a good thing).

Which brings us nicely onto our next metric –  going to want to track your rate of perceived exertion (RPE). This is simply how difficult a task is. In terms of barbell training, RPE has been popularised and is basically another form of repetitions in reserve (RIR) training. Even if your weights are prescribed as specific numbers, RPE  should be tracked, as it can give valuable information that might be otherwise missed. For example, your working sets at a prescribed load should be breezy and at a 7, but the prescribed load feels more like a 9. Patterns and data around RPE can indicate if training is perhaps overcooking (or undercooking) you. RPE should also be applied to your cardiovascular based sessions as well. RPE can be linked to volume load. You will have an idea of what loads / intensity are having what effect in terms of the perceived effort of these sessions.

Alongside RPE, you should be keeping an eye on general life metrics. Are you sleeping ok, or are you getting broken sleep? Are you willing to train or is it a total chore? Have you lost your appetite and feeling generally lethargic? Or has your sex drive / libido taken a massive hit? all of these are important questions, and if you are noticing negative impacts on these (with no causative explanation) then you might need to deload or amend your training. Note, these are consistent feelings. We all have days where these are negatively effected, but if it’s a few days on the trot, something might be amiss. Apply some thought to this, or if you have a coach, discuss it with them.

Tracking your heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) can also be great data metrics to track. If your HRV is consistently decreased, it may indicate you are starting to overcook. Conversely, if your resting heart rate (RHR) starts to increase above typical baseline (on average), then your stress levels may be increasing, which could be related to training. It is important to remember that HR data is incredibly sensitive, so see if there is changes in the data on average.

Performance metrics are of course important to track as well. Pick a couple of strength-based movements, and track how they are progressing over time. Note, you don’t need to test it frequently, but having baselines and working out theoretical maximums can indicate if training is trending in the right direction. Same with distance-based metrics. If you have a particular route you know is a specific distance, it can be used as a good gauge. Just remember that outdoor based times will be a bit more sensitive to conditions such as rain, wind etc (especially if you live in Scotland!). Tied into this, you can monitor physiological based metrics such as VO2 max, critical power, Wingate tests etc. Just make sure what you are tracking is relevant to you and your sport / activity and goals.

As a conclusion to monitoring, you will hopefully see the importance of the metrics outlined above. This is by no means an exhaustive list, far from it. If there are more you feel would be useful, then feel free to track them as well. You do want to avoid a “paralysis by analysis” and it can feel like a bit of a data overload. But it is all useful and important data for following a concurrent training programme, so I would recommend you track as much of it as you can. If you are unsure how they interact, my advice would be to hire a coach who does know what they are doing, and leave the hard analysis and number crunching to them.

Recovery

Onto recovery & recovering from training now. The biggest components of recovery (Out with PED usage) are nutrition (discussed in article 1), sleep and hydration. Anyone who tells you otherwise is likely trying to push a product or service on to you. If you haven’t got those 3 nailed, no amount of theraguns, ice baths / heat treatment, deep tissue massage or flopping about on a foam roller is going to help you. Nail those 3 before you even think about other modalities (discussed below)

Sleep

I have already covered the nutritional element of the main 3 components, so we will look at the remaining 2 now. Firstly, sleep. Sleep is one of the biggest things you can do to improve recovery. If WADA could ban sleep, they would. When we sleep there are various physiological processes which occur, including substrate resynythesis (energy store replenishment) in as well as tissue repair. It’s also the chance to switch off and just rest.

There are also correlations between increased number of injuries and decreased hours of sleep. I,e if you sleep less, you are more likely to get injured. You are also more likely to make poor decisions when fatigued, which can also lead to injury. Further highlighting the need for sleep. Specifically, good quality sleep. For a typical adult you should be aiming for 8 hours. You can get by on less, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do regularly. If you are a teenager, you may even need a little more.

To improve sleep quality, there are a couple of things you can do to improve bedtime hygiene. 1) Try and avoid fluids 1-2 hours before bed. Just sip if you’re thirsty, but if you have been drinking enough through the day, your thirst shouldn’t be unquenchable. The idea from limiting fluids close to bed, is that you shouldn’t need to wake up to pee during the night too often. 2) Avoid screens that emit a blue light before bed such as phones, laptops etc. It would also be prudent to avoid tv too – but, I get that Netflix is fantastic for chilling. And definitely switch off from work before bed. Put that laptop down!, . 3) Try and find something that deliberately relaxes you. Reading and journaling is a good idea to help switch off (as long as it isn’t work related reading content).

There are also various breathing techniques that can be used to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This sends signals from the brain to the body that its time for a nappy nap. There are various ways to do this, however my personal favourite (and one I actively use) is to lie on my back, legs flat with my hands behind my head. I take a deep breath in through my nose for 4s, and exhale gently through my mouth for about 8s. I repeat this for around 5 mins. This isn’t the only way, its just one I personally find useful. Play around with different methods. Key thing is long, slow and deliberate breaths. Short , sharp breaths do the exact opposite.

Finally, there are some supplements you can take which can aid with sleep. One of the most effective supplements for sleep is Melatonin. If you are in Europe or the US (Presumably other countries within the world too), you can get this over the counter. And speaking from personal experience it can be a game changer. However, if you are in the UK, you can only get it on prescription, unless you import it (Which is what I personally do). I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t take it, just highlighting that it can be useful. You do you. It is a supplement that has some solid research behind it, however it should be used quite sparingly.  

Magnesium supplements and lavender have also been used by others to aid with sleep. I cannot personally comment on their efficacy, as I have not used them (Hate lavender) and as I use melatonin, I don’t feel I need anything else.  I cannot comment on what the research says on Magnesium (as I haven’t checked as I’m not personally interested in it). This could be a placebo, it could be legit. I don’t know. What I do, is a fair few people whom have had great success with it. If you are reading this you are probably an adult capable of making your own choices, so make yours. That being said, supplements are meant to be supplementary, if your night-time routine and bedtime hygiene is piss poor, supplements aren’t going to make much difference. So put the damn phone away! 

Hydration

Now it goes without saying, hydration is hugely important for both recovery and performance. Anyone who has been dehydrated (And I mean properly dehydrated, not just a bit thirsty) will know how fucking dreadful it feels. And it can be hard to get over. When you reach a stage of dehydration, water is often not enough on its own to rehydrate you, but why? And why is hydration so important for performance?

When we exercise we sweat (duh) which releases fluid. Many see sweat as a bad thing, and whilst being a sweaty mess is a bit grim, it serves a very important purpose, in that it helps us to thermoregulate – I.e it helps us maintain a safe core temperature. This is why we sweat when we go somewhere hot, or do anything physical in a warmer condition. If we are not adequately hydrated, the body has a far harder time thermoregulating in warm conditions. Dehydration can also cause a reduction in blood volume, which in turn causes the blood to temporarily become more concentrated and thicker, as the body tries to retain sodium (An electrolyte – these are important and discussed below). As a result, blood pressure & cardiovascular strain increase as the heart has to work harder to get blood around the body. Not ideal for just general activity, let alone performance. So, you are starting to see why hydration is important.

All exercise causes a sweat effect as our body rises, but longer endurance type events cause a greater fluid (and electrolyte) loss compared to resistance training. That’s not to say you don’t need to hydrate when lifting, you absolutely do! But the fluid  (and electrolyte) demands are likely to be far less than your cardiovascular sessions (Unless you are lifting in a Sauna). The climate you are living in will also have an impact on how much fluid you lose. Warmer climates are likely to make you sweat more than colder climates, so from wherever in the world you are reading, consider these factors.

Going back to electrolytes, these are substances in the body (e.g Sodium, Calcium, potassium) which are electrically conducting. We need these substances for a variety of tasks such as muscle contraction, so maintaining an equal electrolyte balance is very important for maintaining homeostasis. If we lose excess electrolytes through sweating, we disrupt this balance. This has a negative cascade effect on the body and can seriously hinder performance, and put a person at risk of adverse health issues.

If you are doing endurance events, water on its own is unlikely to be enough to maintain hydrate (But should still be consumed). You will need to look into adding in some sort of electrolyte drinks. These can be home made to keep cost down (google can teach you how) or specifically bought sports drinks. For endurance, you would ideally be looking for an isotonic (electrolytes and small carbohydrate content) or Hypertonic (electrolyte and high carbohydrate content) drinks. When competing, fluids with carbs will be your friend as your stomach will empty fluids faster, and get the nutrients to your bloodstream far quicker than digesting solid food.

Ideally these will be consumed during performance to prevent dehydration, but if you do end up dehydrated, they can still be used to help rehydrate you. Again, water alone is probably not going to be enough. You may also want to strongly consider some medicinal rehydration sachets to help. If you do end up dehydrated, you need to try and minimise strenuous activity as much as feasibly practical, and keep drinking fluids / electrolytes and use how you feel and the colour of your urine as a guide on your hydration status. But, like most things, prevention is the best cure, so stay hydrated.

Active recovery

This is something that I personally feel is underrated when done properly, but, more often than not, people butcher it. Essentially, an active recovery session is when you do some low (and I mean low) level exercise or activity. The purpose of it is to enhance blood flow, movement, removal of waste products from the tissues (via blood flow and other processes) and generally just aid and facilitate recovery and movement

So why do people get it wrong? Because they turn it from a recovery session into another training session. Instead of aiding recovery, they just perpetuate the issue they are trying to mitigate.

If you are looking to do an active recovery day, the activity should be at a low enough level that you could hold a conversation fairly comfortably whilst doing so. For those familiar with HR zones, you would be in approximately HR zone 1. As for the mode of exercise, you have plenty of options. If you are a runner I would suggest getting “off-feet” to reduce the amount of training impact exposure. A bike would be ideal here. It can also be something as simple as getting outside and going for a walk on a relatively flat, easy going terrain. You could also do some gentle movement / mobility circuits such as animal flow or low-level calisthenics. The important thing is to keep the intensity low. Active recovery sessions shouldn’t be long, and you should be able to hold a conversation whilst doing them (unless you’re swimming, lest you risk drowning)

Other recovery modalities

I am aware that this article is quite sizeable, so I won’t take up too much more time on recovery. There are multiple different recovery tools (Theraguns, foam rollers, massage, cupping and about a million other things etc) that people employ. If you have gotten sleep, nutrition and hydration nailed than you can think about implementing these. It should be remembered, that for most of these modalities, the effect is largely psychological. The majority of the research on physiological impact of these modalities for recovery predominantly suggests that they don’t have any real impact on physiological markers of fatigue & muscular damage such as creatine kinase levels, RHR etc. The research that does suggest they help is usually sketchy and quite poorly conducted. The results are usually explained by poor methodology rather than being ground-breaking, but that’s a separate discussion.

What is often forgotten by the “hard data” crew (I myself have been guilty of this in the past) is the effect these modalities can have psychologically. People often feel and perceive themselves to be in a far better place following these treatments or practises. And something like massage can be really good for de-stressing and unwinding (I openly admit I get massage work done, why? It feels damn good!). People are often quick to dismiss the psychological aspect of training and focus entirely on physiology or biomechanics. And it is incredibly narrow minded. If someone believes something helps them, then you best believe it helps.  

So if you feel better from these modalities or treatments, use them. They can help with the perceived effect of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and they are unlikely to hinder performance. And I admit I do get massage work done and occasionally a gun myself.

However, as a quick note on these modalities, they are not for “injury prevention” and shouldn’t be labelled as such (this really grinds my gears when people do). Technically speaking, injuries cannot be prevented unless you stop doing the activity where the injury may occur in the first place. But you can reduce the likelihood / risk of an injury occurring. However, it is not from foam rolling, theraguns etc, but from strength training. Being strong and improving strength has the strongest correlations with reduced  (not preventing) injury risk, because you are building up strength and robustness in the muscles, connective tissues joints and bones. Through strength training, you are literally making yourself harder to break and to kill. Being more mobile (for the sake of being mobile) or flopping about on a foam roller isn’t going to stop you from breaking. Being harder to break in the first place will.

Cold water immersion, friend or foe?

One method of recovery that has gained a lot of popularity recently is cold water immersion (CWI) therapy, and I do want to give some advice with this. That advice is, use it sparingly. CWI can be great for people who are very close to competition, particularly if they have 2 sessions a day. But, and this is a big thing, CWI downregulates  anabolic signalling. What does this mean in layman’s terms? Well when we do resistance training, the growth and repair process is “anabolic”. Anabolism is induced by adequate nutritional intake and through signalling of hormonal processes (Such as mTOR upregulation). When we undertake CWI, these signals are blunted, thus the rate of adaptation is affected. Particularly for strength, power and hypertrophy.

There are some arguments for CWI for aerobic adaptations, but, the argument for CWI helping to improve aerobic performance is nowhere near as strong as the argument for developing strength and power to aid aerobic performance. So if you are using CWI, use it very sparingly. Typically, they are used by people who have 2-a day sessions and are closing in on competition. I admit though, it does feel bloody good to get into some cold water (Sea or a Loch is my go to). Overall, there are multiple modalities at your disposal with varying degrees of efficacy from both a psychological and physiological standpoint. It might take a bit of trial and error to figure out what suits you best.

And that is all she wrote! Thank you for tuning into this gargantuan 4 parter. I appreciate that it is a lot to read in one go, and this hasn’t covered everything that is involved with concurrent training. I will cover more on hybrid training at some stage at some stage. However, this will be in the future. I will be covering some different areas next, so stay tuned!

thank you for taking the time out of your day (or evening) to read these. I hope you enjoyed these articles and got some good insight into the world of concurrent training. If you did, please please share with fellow endurance & hybrid athletes, friends, family etc that you know!

Personally, I admit that Hybrid athlete’s are some of my favourite to work with. So if you are a Hybrid athlete, or if you are either 1) and endurance athlete looking to develop strength, power and muscle mass or 2) A strength sport athlete wanting to dip into endurance training, but unsure how to approach it.. shoot me a message. I would LOVE to have you on board, and I can definitely help your performance in both aspects.

Until next time

Stay strong

Callum

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A beginners guide to Hybrid training part 3: Resistance training & Programming considerations

In part 2 we covered aerobic training and conditioning for Hybrid athlete’s. It covered some practical applications and considerations for maximising results. If you haven’t already checked it out, it can be found here ( https://stewartathleticdevelopment.com/a-beginners-guide-to-hybrid-training-part-2-aerobic-cardiovascular-training-for-hybrid-athletes/  ). Leading in to todays article. You will need to have read it (and instalment 1), as there is considerable crossover.

Resistance training recommendations for hybrid athletes

Todays article will cover  resistance training (yay) for hybrid (and endurance) athlete’s. This section is not going to be “what is the best exercise for x”, more it will give you framework in which you can build from. If you are a hybrid athlete and actively partaking / competing in strength sports, your exercise selection is going to be based around your phase of training and proximity to competing, as the exercises selected will be to varying levels of competition “specificity”. If you are just an endurance athlete reading this, but want to maximise both your strength and endurance training, you have much more variation to choose from.

First up, we will look at a traditional approach to resistance training. If you have partaken in resistance training before, this is probably what you have done in some capacity or another. As a rough overview, a traditional approach may typically look like this.  

Strength: Typically 1-7 reps over 3-10 sets. Usually between 77-100% of 1rm

Hypertrophy:  8-15 reps over 3-6 sets ranging from 55-80% of 1rm

Within that. Rest periods are generally shorter for hypertrophy work, and longer for strength work. For shorter rest periods, there is an accumulation of by products associated with hypertrophy, and longer rest periods allow for higher quality movement and outputs. Fairly straightforward, and not too ground breaking.

Strength training for hybrid athletes using a traditional approach

From a strength training perspective, a traditional approach will involve working at relatively high intensities for lower reps and higher sets. This will mean repeated exposure to specific movement patterns, thus developing more efficient neural pathways. You will also get stronger (duh). But a common question is, “What has strength training got to do with endurance training?”

Well, quite a bit. If you want to be good at endurance training. To put it bluntly, if you are an endurance athlete and not doing strength training, you’re seriously limiting your own performance.

Strength as a quality, has an impact on movement economy (runners will be familiar with the term running economy) for endurance athletes. In that, increased strength levels are strongly associated with improved movement economy.

Got your attention now, huh?

Movement economy is simply put, the relative demand in which the body requires for locomotion. So if you had two people, both running at 6km per hour, but one was a distance runner and one was sedentary. The movement economy is going to be poor for the sedentary person, because the effort (both physical exertion and energy supply) for them to maintain that speed is going to be much higher, than the distance runner. Now movement economy isn’t just strength / power (it is also your aerobic / anaerobic conditioning as well – previous article will help with that) but in this article, we will just be looking at the resistance training side of things.

When you are moving in your endurance training / events, it is repeated muscle contractions & relaxations over a period of time. If you need to speed up, the demand becomes higher, and if you need to slow down, the effort is lessened. During these actions, you will be recruiting a certain amount of motor units and muscle fibres to allow movement. When moving at competition or race velocity, this will remain fairly constant from an energy perspective. However, that velocity will be different from person to person (as state above). By increasing your strength levels (i.e maximal strength), submaximal work becomes easier, and the relative intensity of what is actually submaximal changes (I know it can become confusing, stick with it).

Say for examples sake, your squat 1 rep maximum (heaviest weight you can lift for 1 rep) is 100kg. 60kg would be 60% of your 1rm. But if you increased your squat1rm to 120kg, 60kg is now only 50% of 1rm. So if you were to squat 60kg, the relative effort is now less. This will (or should, as long as your training programme is appropriate) have a positive impact on movement economy.

In terms more meaningful to you, Your 60% of race speed or effort, would now be at a higher velocity. I.e you would be moving faster at 60% after strength training, than before strength training (e.g old 60% was 3.5 m/s and new is 4 m/s -please note, these are arbitrary made up speeds). Or, if you were to match your old 60% velocity (3.5 m/) you would do so with less effort, as it now only 50% effort vs 60.

So how does this happen?

Strength training underpins something known as rate of force development (RFD) and is underpinned by maximal strength training (to a point). Rate of force development, is simply how quickly you can apply maximal, or close to maximal force. This is achieved through quickly recruiting motor units and muscle fibres to allow muscles to relax and contract.

Top end sprinters are excellent for producing high RFD levels. As they can apply tremendous amounts of force, very quickly. Powerlifters are fantastic at producing force, but the velocity is low. Something like a javelin throw is high in velocity, but doesn’t produce as much force (relatively speaking). To help with understanding, I have attached a force / velocity relationship diagram

However, to have a relatively high RFD, you have to be able to produce the force in the first place. You simply cannot produce force which doesn’t exist. And strength training helps with force production. So there, that is how strength training helps to improve endurance performance. Hybrid athlete’s will still need relatively high RFD to be successful in aerobic training and any power training they do.

(Worth noting – there are limitations with the force / velocity diagram & relationship discussion. It implies that things which are high in speed, are low in force e.g sprinting. This is not the case – but is a separate discussion. This will help with some illustration however)

Hypertrophy training for Hybrid athlete’s using a traditional approach

Going back to hypertrophy training, in a traditional approach it is typically higher number of reps per set, and shorter recovery sets. Now some of the hypertrophy crew may come forward with “wElL AkShuAlLy… research has been shown that hypertrophy can occur from 30-85%+ 1rm” and reps ranging from 3-20. I do not dispute this. I never have. But there are caveats with these findings (which are often overlooked when people fail to remember life exists outside of P= <0.05 values..) which I have previously discussed in an article dedicated to hypertrophy (which is found here –  https://stewartathleticdevelopment.com/a-beginners-guide-to-winning-the-hyper-trophy-the-keys-to-getting-jacked-and-tanned/  )… so read that. Please. Back to the main point…

From a hypertrophy perspective, a traditional approach utilises a higher number of reps (duh) which in turn increases the TUT that the body is exposed to. TUT, is a mechanical factor (not the only one) in eliciting hypertrophy. There is also a greater demand on muscles from an energy standpoint. This can help with developing a greater local muscular endurance (LME) effect, whilst still working with relatively high loads.

LME is important, particularly for endurance focused sports. The longer you can “endure” the more efficient your movement comes from both a biomechanical and substrate (energy) usage perspective. You may hear of runners discussing “running economy” and by improving running economy, the relative effort of a given task decreases. The same principle applies to other movements when you develop the capacity and efficiency of the joint actions and tissues related to said joints. Consequentially, you can maintain a higher power output during propulsion. i.e. you can travel further, faster and for longer. 

We know that increasing the height of the ceiling (i.e improving maximal strength) will help with LME, so you don’t need to do any of the stupidly high rep sets that are typically associated with LME training. Traditional LME training ranges between 30-50% of 1rm, but if you increase your overall 1rm, that relative 30-50% also increases. This is what is meant by “increasing the height of the ceiling”. Simply put, it is increasing your strength potential. This is very much related to the above points on strength training. Revisit if needs be.

You may think this is a support for cluster training (discussed below), as during clusters you are working at a higher relative intensity. But cluster training is not taken overly close to failure. As a result there is no exposure to what it’s like for muscle fatigue feels like, nor the ability to adapt to this fatigue sensation (both from a physiological perspective and psychologically speaking). Anyone who has competed in a long-distance event (which may surprise some of the readers but this does include me – highland cross finisher 2011 #humblebrag) will testify how bloody awful that jelly leg, depleted and just generally gassed feeling is. A traditional approach, and training taken close to failure does give some similar sensations here

Do you want bigger muscles as a hybrid athlete?

The answer to this question is highly individual to you. So I will give you some considerations for being jacked whilst a hybrid athlete.

  1. A bigger muscle has the capacity to produce more force, however, bigger muscles also require more O2 to be oxygenated. Thus, the energy demand for contraction can increase
  2. Increased muscle = increased total mass. This means there is more mass to move which again, has an energy cost
  3. However, if you compete in strength sports as well, you may need to fill out your weight class

Now, these aren’t the only considerations for whether you should or shouldn’t be looking to gain muscle as a hybrid (or endurance) athlete. But these are some things you might want to consider.

Concluding a traditional approach

Overall, a more “traditional” approach encompasses the best of both worlds. You are getting exposure to training closer to failure (which also has hypertrophy & strength benefits), a greater oxidative stress & the ability to oxygenate muscles during exercise (again, important for performance) whilst still developing strength and hypertrophy. Which ultimately is the goal. You can still use a traditional approach to build power and explosive contractile qualities as well. It (like everything) takes experience and application to do so effectively, from an experienced coach.

So what about a non-traditional approach? Cluster training has joined the chat

The use of Cluster sets can be very useful for concurrent training. Particularly when applied to lower / full body exercises which demand a high level of Central Nervous System (CNS) Activity (Squats, deadlifts etc) and there are a few reasons for this, which we will look at. For those unsure about cluster training, there are 2 main ways in which you can perform clusters, and we will look at both below. In this context, both the benefits of strength and hypertrophy will be discussed. Rather than rehashing what strength and hypertrophy are, and why they help performance. Whilst eh application of how, is different with cluster training, the end results are theoretically the same in principle.

Cluster type 1 

Cluster training is when you “Cluster” multiple subsets into 1 big set. For arguments sake, we will use simple numbers. Your target no reps for your big set is 9, so you’ll do 3 repetitions, rest 10-15s do another 3 reps, rest 10-15s and perform the final 3 reps, totalling 3 “clustered” subsets into 1 big set of 9 reps. This is then repeated for the prescribed number of sets. In between the “clustered” sets you take adequate recovery based on the desired training adaptation, and the load being lifted. Typically subsets are made up of 1-5 reps. 3 seems to be a bit of a sweet spot for most. 

Cluster type 2

These clusters are performed over a longer period of time, and are also a variation on density training. This method uses a technique called EMOM (Every minute on the minute) repetitions, over a prescribed timeframe. These can also be  E2MOM in which it is every 2 minutes on the minute you go. For example, you could perform 3 repetitions EMOM over a 10 minute time frame, giving you a total of 30 working repetitions in a short time frame.

Cluster type 1 can be progressed by increasing the number of sets, and by increasing the number of reps, which will increase the no of clusters done. Cluster type 2 can be progressed by either changing the number of reps done EMOM / E2MOM, lowering the reps but increasing intensity (Weight lifted) or by simply extending the length of your work set. E.G 3 EMOM’s over a 12 minute period, not 10.

Regardless of using option 1 or 2, the goal is the same. To maintain a higher bar speed velocity (How fast the bar moves measured in metres (m) / seconds (s)) and high movement quality. In traditional sets we will see a decrease in bar speed in the later reps. Depending on the training status of the individual, there may also be a decrease in movement quality. This decrease in movement quality 1) Reduces the efficiency of movement & can engrain poor movement patterns and 2) may increase the risk of injury. In theory (And practise), clusters can improve strength whilst maintaining high velocities, which may transfer more effectively into sport for athletes

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There is also an argument for using cluster training to elicit hypertrophy in athletic populations vs traditional hypertrophy training. The argument comes back to functional vs non-functional hypertrophy (There are various definitions of what this is). The proposed argument (In the context of this article) of functional vs non-functional hypertrophy, is that hypertrophy elicited via mechanisms which can maintain high velocity in contraction are going to be more “functional” vs more traditional hypertrophy training. The theory is that muscles elicited via cluster training produce more force, thus more “functional”. Some will agree, some will call bullshit. I’m not here to dispute it either way, just laying out information for readers to do with as they please

“Traditional” hypertrophy & Strength training typically has a greater mechanical stress from a greater time under tension (TUT) but a significant drop in barbell velocity as fatigue sets in and muscle contraction is impeded. We know that whilst 10×3 and 3×10 equals the same total reps, they don’t necessarily cause the same adaptation. The actual volume load (Total work completed) is likely to be far higher on 10×3, as you can lift more weight for less repetitions, even with a far higher number of sets. We also know that volume & volume load is a far bigger driver for hypertrophy than TUT.

Logically speaking, there is some merit to this theory. We know a larger muscle has a greater potential to produce and express force than a smaller muscle (Yes there are caveats here, but the potential is higher). However, in a sporting context, what use is it if the muscle can’t do it quickly?. Because most sports (Out with powerlifting and some strongman events) don’t happen slowly. They happen fast!. And if you could get a bigger muscle that can also produce force quickly, and repeat this then.. you are onto a winner

Resistance training conclusions

I will wrap up the lifting recommendations here. I’m not saying you have to do clusters. You can absolutely build strength, power & hypertrophy with more traditional training whilst still having explosive contractile qualities. This has been done by many coaches (myself included). I am just saying, these are another tool in your toolbox. I (personally) tend to favour a more traditional approach, but clusters absolutely have their purpose within a training programme for definite. One may be better suited to you, depending on your desired adaptations etc. Use what you feel is more suitable for your current needs (or hire a coach)

Structuring concurrent & endurance training

Finally, we will look at waysin which you can structure your training blocks. Programme structure is very important for concurrent athlete’s, so get your notepad an pen at the ready. If you try and wing it, you are most likely going to fail. Concurrent training is absolutely possible, but it does require a greater level of planning and structure. So the first recommendation…

Consolidate your high days

Consolidatecombine (a number of things) into a single more effective or coherent whole.

This is something I have talked about in a video on Structuring your training week (https://www.instagram.com/p/CMANHRwHs8L/ ). This video will be particularly useful for concurrent training, if you haven’t already, I would recommend you check it out. There is however a couple of specific points made in that video which I will address here, as they are pretty useful. The next points are incredibly important for all types of athlete’s. However, I am going to predominantly focus on hybrid athlete’s here. But it still applies to you, irrespective of sport and  / or goals.

In the context of training, “high” days are training days in the week where they are particularly high in stress. This can be high in CNS demand, physiological strain, biomechanical strain, volume etc. Essentially within a training week, you should have some High days, some low days and some moderate days. One of the reasons that consolidating your high sessions into a “high day” is to reduce the overall impact on training and recovery throughout the week. If you have 2 hard endurance sessions a week, and 2 hard resistance training sessions per week, all on separate days, that is 4/7 days of the week as high. And that is 1) disgusting and 2) not ideal. Why?

All stress and fatigue is related to the CNS. The more it is stressed, the more fatigue starts to play a part. Overshooting on fatigue leads to non-functional over-reaching. If this is is left unchecked it can lead to overtraining syndrome. If you reach a point of overtraining (And I mean true over training) it will take months, possibly even years to recover from depending on how badly you overcooked yourself.

By consolidating your high days you are reducing frequency in the number of high days the CNS is exposed to, which will help to manage fatigue and also allow effective medium and low days. Remember, not all training needs to be super hard to be effective. Whilst the high days are going to be tough, in the long run (no pun intended) consolidating them may be effective. In terms of structuring high approaches, there are 2 particularly effective ways of doing this. I will explain both, and also the pros and cons of each option.

Option 1

You cycle the “high” based on the training. What do I mean by this? ,If you are pushing for improving resistance training focused adaptations, and endurance focused adaptations then you are going to need high days. But strength training and aerobic capacity both have long training residuals i.e how long it takes for each quality to begin to detrain. Which is helpful for option 1.

I am going to use a 4 week training block as an example. In week 1, on the high days you will push the intensity and really try to improve on your endurance training, whilst maintaining the resistance training adaptations. In week 2, you will push the resistance training adaptations, and maintain the cardiovascular training adaptations. Week 3, you repeat the same idea as week 1, but a little more (Going back to the G.A.S theory). Week 4… yup, you guessed it. Repeat the same idea as week 2 but again, a little more.

With this approach, you can then adjust your medium & low days accordingly, and deload whilst necessary. This is still consolidating your high days, but a little easier on the body and mind.

Option 2

Now this option is a good bit tougher from both a physical and psychological perspective, but it might improve the rate of adaptation (Assuming that training is structured in a sensible fashion and not full on YOLO). The principle is the same in that you are consolidating your high days, but you are not undulating the focus week in week out. You really drop the hammer on both cardiovascular training and resistance training on your high days. So rather than maintenance on 1, and pushing on 2, you push on 1 & 2.

For fairly obvious reasons, you can see why this would be the tougher of the two options. But it means you are never running on maintenance (Out with structured deloads) hence why adaptation is theoretically going to be faster. If you opt for option 2, you are going to have to pay much closer attention to detail on recovery, performance etc. Think of option 2 as higher risk higher reward. The gains might be faster, but it will be much easier to overcook yourself. You will need to keep a very close eye on recovery, and have solid recovery metrics in place such as RHR, Sleep, nutrition tracking etc. I will be discussing recovery in another article.

Another important thing to remember, is how you consolidate your high days. In a high day, if you choose a high-volume session for 1 training mode, but high intensity for another, you are likely to have a pretty terrible time regardless of which way round it is. When consolidating your highs, try and make it the same type of high. Got a high intensity Cardiovascular session? Pair it with a high intensity resistance training session not a high-volume resistance training session. And in terms of what will be worse to consolidate, volume vs intensity? Volume is gonna win that round easily.

You also want to think about how you are going to separate out these sessions. Higher volume or intensity Cardiovascular sessions are more likely to have a negative impact than a higher intensity resistance training session. Higher volume resistance training sessions might be a little trickier, but as long as you aren’t training your legs like a bro / bodybuilder you should be ok. In an Ideal world you’ll have between 6-10 hours between sessions, but we know the ideal world and the real world don’t always coincide..

Training splits

Firstly you wanna look at how you are actually training in terms of structure. This is what is known as a training split. How you structure your splits will have an influencing factor on overall structure of your programme. If you are an athlete you are most likely to be following full body splits, the exception to this may be powerlifters (However full body splits are not uncommon). If you are gen pop its likely to be either 1) Full body split 2) Lower body split or 3) body part split / bro split such as chest day, leg day etc (Screams internally). For the purposes of this article, I will cover full body & upper / lower. I’m not covering a bro split because I think they are fucking woeful.

Full body training splits

Full body splits / full body training sessions = Working your whole body (Anterior & posterior, upper and lower) in the same session

If your training split (I.e how you organise your training) is made up of full body sessions, you would look to do your resistance training first, followed by your cardiovascular training. The reason being, the cardiovascular training is likely to have a greater negative effect on your lifting session, than if performed in a reverse order. Particularly if you are including power work (squat jumps, Olympic lifts, plyos etc) within your lifting session. Which you probably would be. Your lifting session is unlikely to have too much of an effect on your cardiovascular training, unless you are training like a moron. Ideally, you would space them out a bit (am & pm), however, this is not always feasible.

Upper / lower splits

Training sessions are split into upper and lower days. Typically 2x lower & 2x upper per week. Emphasis on these sessions can be manipulated depending on exercise selection, intensity etc.

If your training is broken into an upper / lower, you have even more scope for manipulation. Depending how many cardiovascular sessions you are planning, you can either add them on to your resistance training sessions or as separate days. However, going back to consolidating your high days, I would recommend you perform them on the same days and take some proper recovery days.

Another option is to perform them after upper body sessions. Arguably, this may be the better option depending on the mode of cardiovascular training you go for. If you opt for running or cycling options, your legs will be fresher, therefore you can produce higher outputs and get more out of your session. If you opt for the rower, ski erg or swimming, you may want to consider when you do your cardiovascular training based on your sessions and mode. Either way, I would still recommend consolidating your days. If you are looking at more than 2 cardiovascular sessions per week on an upper / lower split, I would look to utilise SIT after your lower body sessions, and longer intervals or continuous cardiovascular training after your upper body sessions. SIT has the lowest interference effect, and also it is over the quickest. On the longer intervals / continuous training, you will be fresher on your upper body days. 

And a final point. There may be times where you have to perform your cardiovascular training before your resistance training on the same day, whilst not ideal, there are ways to mitigate the effects of this.

One way to do this is by separating your cardiovascular session from your resistance training by a good chunk of time, ideally by 6-8 hours. Within that time, you will be looking to really dial in on recovering and refuelling. You will be wanting to consume a good amount of carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores, to ensure you have some energy moving into the session. In terms of recovery, this is about as much as I would recommend doing between sessions. You may be tempted by ice baths, electrotherapy and other fancy recovery modalities. However, they usually come at a cost. Whilst they may mitigate short term DOMS and feeling better, the often suppress the physiological pathways that are needed for adaptation. So they may “feel good” but in reality you are just slowing progress down considerably. Part 3 of the concurrent training articles will look at recovery in greater detail.

So that concludes part 2 of the concurrent training article (s). Next week we will look at monitoring training and recovery. Both are crucial in success for a hybrid athlete, so don’t miss it!  If you have any questions about concurrent training, then shoot me a message! Or if you want to become a hybrid athlete, get in touch and we can discuss some hybrid athlete coaching!

Until next time

Stay strong

Callum

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A beginners guide to Hybrid training part 2: Aerobic / Cardiovascular training for hybrid athletes

Welcome back to part 2 (of 4)of the concurrent training article. Last week we covered the underpinning science of concurrent training, as well as some practical nutrition recommendations. If you have stumbled across this article by chance, I would recommend checking out part one ( https://stewartathleticdevelopment.com/a-beginners-guide-to-hybrid-training-part-1-physiology-and-nutrition/ ) first. Now, on to the fun stuff. Training to become a hybrid athlete.

The training itself will be split into 2 articles. Firstly, we will look at aerobic training, and also look at the lactate threshold and lactate training. The 3rd article (2nd part of the training section) will look at resistance training for hybrid athlete’s, as well as some recommendations on structuring a training week, & training block.

The first training recommendation is exercising the art of patience when trying to become concurrent AF (AF = As f*ck for everyone who isn’t down with the kids.). Yes, we know you can concurrently make progress in both cardiovascular fitness (and performance) as well as strength, power and hypertrophy adaptations. However, progress is going to be slower. Particularly if 1) you are not using exogenous anabolic hormones (PED’s / steroids) 2) you’re female or 3) you’re in your mid – late 20s & upwards. Sorry, I don’t make the biological or physiological rules. It just do be like that sometimes.

Assuming you have the patience and your nutrition is nailed down, then there are training considerations which need to be made. These considerations will largely be down to your sport or activity, as will be discussed. If you are a long distance athlete (e.g marathon / ultramarathon runner), it is going to be an incredibly slow process, as your training will involve a large endurance component. This type of cardiovascular training has a bigger interference effect (i.e slower rate of adaptation) vs higher intensity cardiovascular training (such as 5k runner, sprint cyclist etc). Therefore, this should be considered when designing & implementing training.

If you are recreationally active or a intermittent sport athlete, you have more wiggle room and things become less tricky. As a result, concurrent adaptations will occur more quickly. You might currently be thing “what the fuck you on about?” But by the end of this article, it will make a bit more sense.

So how can you become concurrent AF?

There are certain training modalities which are more successful for developing adaptations concurrently. Regardless what category of athlete or person you fall into, you can successfully utilise the following modalities effectively. But remember, these are not the only way to achieve concurrent adaptations. Merely recommendations. Some more traditional methods, such as low and moderate steady state training (LISS /MISS) can still be effective. If you are a long distance athlete, you will need to have LISS/ MISS as part of your traing (not as much as you may think however – more on this later). Howver, If you are unsure, you can save yourself a lot of hassle with one simple step

Hire. A Professional!

One training modality which is particularly useful for concurrent training is HIIT. HIIT =High intensity interval training (For those unware) is an exercise modality which is made up of specific intervals (W = work) which are set at a specific time, to emphasise specific energy systems for the appropriate adaptations. These intervals are interspersed by periods of rest (can be active or passive, depending on the modality and other factors).

People like to over complicate HIIT to the high end, with about a million different acronyms for different types. It’s something that can be a bit of a grievance for me. However, I will be yielding to the use of a couple of acrobyms (Don’t @ me)

Specifically, there is a HIIT modality known as sprint interval training (SIT) which has been demonstrably one of the most effective methods in minimising the interference effect. Especially those in the general population and intermittent sport athletes. For those whom are unfamiliar with SIT, I will explain below

A SIT session is made up of short, maximal (And I mean maximal) efforts typically between 5-15s in duration. The Work : Rest (W : R) is also small, typically 1 : 1-5 W : R.

For an example, we will look at a Watt bike session (Settings – Airbrake @ 5-8, Mag brake @1). You will perform 6, 10s sprints, interspersed with 30s rest (W:R = 1:3_ , for 1-3 sets… grim stuff. However, SIT particularly effective in minimising the interference effect, and it has a lot of “bang for it’s buck” . But why?

The maximal nature of the SIT

Sit is supramaximal in nature and highly anaerobic (initially anyway), thus it predominantly recruits’ type IIx & IIa (Fast twitch) fibre types, and high threshold motor units. These are the same fibre types & motor units associated with strength, power & hypertrophy training. As a result, there is much less of an “interference” effect as both are predominantly relying on the same structures & substrates for performance, they are just being stressed in a very different manner. Essentially the training types can compliment each other, but if structured poorly they can be a hinderance (More on this later)

Due to the fibre type / motor unit recruitment it also primarily relies on anaerobic substrates for energy. The short W : R ratios indicate that there is incomplete resynthesis of anaerobic substrates (Intramuscular PCr & glycogen) therefore it has to switch to aerobic pathways. However, aerobic metabolism cannot supply energy as quickly. This substrate degradation / incomplete resynthesis is reflected in the decrease in both peak and average power produced as the number of sprints

Despite SIT appearing (And actually being) a highly anaerobic activity, there are improvements quantifiable in Aerobic capacity from SIT training interventions. But there are caveats. The research (Thus far) indicates that VO2 max plateaus after 3-4 weeks of training SIT training. But, there is generally improvements in both peak and average power produced in the later sprints (Sprint 3 onwards as represented by the second graph), over the later stages of the interventions. This indicates there are still positive adaptations occurring (Despite VO2 plateau), but what?

The improvements are coming from 1) Improved oxidative enzyme activity and  2) Improved lactate kinetics . Looking at point 1, aerobic improvements in HIIT (and SIT) training are from upregulated aerobic glycolytic enzyme activity (a mouthful I know). The firstrate limiting step in aerobic glycolysis is the efficacy of an enzyme known as Phosphofructokinase (PFK).

By increasing the efficiency of PFK (and other glycolytic enzymes – but I’m not making this too physiology heavy) activity, the body is able to produce energy more efficiently via aerobic pathways, thus we see an increase in the later sprints. The improvements in PFK (and other glycolytic enzymes), thus resulting in improved aerobic capacity, have been demonstrated in multiple studies. Whereas, there has been little to know improvement in fat oxidative enzyme activity / no increases in Beta (Fat) oxidation. So. The next time someone tells you that HIIT is “great for burning fat”, you can politely tell them to foxtrot Oscar 

Onto point 2, SIT training is well above the lactate threshold (refer to previous video) thus there is a large amount of blood lactate (BLa) accumulated. Through exposure to higher BLa concentrations, the body becomes more efficient at using lactate as a substrate. Improvements in lactate kinetics, and is reflected in multiple studies measuring BLa in different ways.

As for VO2 plateau? I think its down to the methodology used within HIIT / SIT research. Essentially, the vast majority of the research kept the training variables the exact same. I.e, the intensity & volume of SIT training did not change throughout the entirety of the interventions (typically 4-8 weeks in duration). We know from the G.A.S theory (If unsure what that is, I have a video here –https://www.instagram.com/p/CK3UUNYnGAQ/ ) that a stimulus needs to be changed (Positively) to elicit positive adaptation. So if week 1 in the intervention was 6x 10s sprints, with 25s recovery, then week 8 would be the same. Ergo, no change in volume or intensity.

You will need to indulge me here. This was actually what my Masters by Research (MbR / MScRes –whatever the f*ck you wanna call it) project was on before I had to abandon it (Thanks Covid). In my Study, I took some simple linear progression and applied it to a 9 week intervention. In my study, the total workload (volume) was increased every 3 weeks, through the addition of another sprint per session (2 extra reps per week). Within each session, the intensity of the sprints were set against a relative % of the individuals body mass. Intensities themselves undulated (in a controlled manner) between 6-8% for females, and 6.5 – 8.5% for males.

This may not have seemed much, but it was enough to elicit adaptation. VO2 maximum was also tested very 3 weeks (Sorry for the participants who are reading this) to monitor any potential changes. With the preliminary data collected, I seen an improvement in VO2, every 3 weeks, in all participants in the training group (regardless of participant height, weight, training status, sex etc). So I was most probably on to something, but alas, it had to be abandoned. Thanks Covid.

This improvement in VO2 indicated that O2 kinetics and maximal O2 uptake will continue to improve if training variables are manipulated to achieve a progressive overload stimulus. Whilst this may seem fairly intuitive, to the best of my knowledge there has not been a laboratory-based study which looked into this (one of the reasons I went down that route). However, if you are a coach you probably have some data from your own athletes (or maybe even yourself) which does support this. Overall, if you are looking into programming conditioning sessions to develop a lot of “bang for your buck”. SIT is a useful tool in your toolbox. But it is not the only one.

What about mid – long distance competitors?

You are probably thinking “that’s all well and good for average joe’s and intermittent sport athlete’s. But what effect does SIT have on mid – long distance events?”. And it is a fair question. It can still have a positive effect for sure, but is not necessarily the most effective method for long distance events. However, it is a common misconception that you have to be doing multiple long distance sessions each week. Well I’m here to tell you that you don’t (I can hear the  “wait, what?!” comments now) and that this may actually be hindering you.

These kinds of sessions take a huge physical toll from a biomechanical / structural perspective. This is especially true for runners / running which involves repeated contacts on a (usually) hard surface. Stress fractures and repeated strain injuries (RSI’s) are particularly high in endurance athlete’s due to this misconception that if you aren’t clocking up huge miles, you aren’t improving performance. So how can you improve mid – long distance performance, without turning into Forrest Gump?

Intervals again are the solution here, but in a slightly different format. When we are doing aerobic or anaerobic conditioning, we are trying to stress a specific energy system. However it is important to remember that when exercising, the energy systems don’t work independently of each other, but cohesively. However, the emphasis / contribution of each energy system is dependent on the stressor the body is exposed to (more on the energy systems can be found here https://www.instagram.com/tv/CKOpn8wnTha/ ).

SIT raining predominantly stresses the Alactic (also known as the ATP-PCr or Phosphagen system) for energy. Thus, SIT is predominantly used for developing the Alactic system (although there are aerobic benefits). So by the power of deduction you can probably guess what these intervals will be focusing on..

Yup, you guessed it. They will be aerobic or glycolytic intervals (depending on what your needs are). These intervals are also pretty horrible (I’d actually say worse but that’s just me) but, no one said training would be easy. The principle is the same in that there is a specific W : R ratio, it’s just the times change depending on the energy systems. Essentially, the heart and the body will adapt to the stress that you put it under. It doesn’t really give a shit how it is stressed, just as long as it is done in a manner which is conducive to your specific needs & requirements of your sport or activity. There are factors such as orthopaedic, biomehcanical and structural adaptations which also need to be considered, which is where a thorough understanding of training, and exercise anatomy, physiology and biomechanics is important for designing a sensible & appropriate training block.

Many of the improvements for aerobic and anaerobic glycolytic intervals are the same in terms of uprated glycolytic enzyme activity and movement economy. However, BLa concentrations will also be lower (specifically when performing aerobic intervals), perhaps even working in and around the lactate threshold on some intervals (more on this below). But rather than going into too much more detail on HIIT (And basically repeating myself) I will leave you with an interval cheat sheet.

Conditioning cheat sheet

Lactate threshold training – all its cracked up to be?

If you have been around any hybrid or endurance athlete’s for a period of time and discussed training with them, the “lactate threshold” and threshold training will have undoubtedly been mentioned at some point. Many endurance athletes like to talk about the lactate threshold and “threshold training” as the holy grail of endurance training (it is important, don’t get me wrong) but they are often unsure what the lactate threshold actually is. Usually what they referred to as the lactate threshold, is actually something else (I have also made this mistake in the past, don’t worry!). So why do people get it wrong?

This is partly due to discrepancies within literature and in writing. Different papers and authors use various terms around Lactate interchangeably, and it confuses matters. Sometimes, the onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA) is referred to as the lactate threshold, but this is incorrect. The actual lactate threshold varies between person, and is defined as “the point where blood lactate (BLa) levels rise 1mmol-1 above baseline. Baseline BLa levels vary between 0.8 1.5mmol-1 and are dependant on a variety of factors. OBLA however, occurs at 4mmol-1, (regardless of training status and is a different thing) and is the point where BLa production exceeds the rate of clearance.

However, the time taken to reach OBLA does vary between individuals, and is dependant on training status. More well-trained individuals (i.e those with a greater aerobic capacity & lactate kinetics) will take a longer time to reach OBLA than less trained individuals. They are also able to sustain higher outputs during their activity. I.e, they are moving faster, for longer before OBLA hits. For mid – long distance events you want to delay the time until OBLA occurs for as long as possible. This is referred to as maximum lactate steady state (MLSS).

MLSS is the key part for endurance type events, as it is the point where an athlete can sustain their highest outputs, over an extended period of time, without a sharp increase in BLa. Essentially the highest point in outputs where the rate of BLa production is matched by the rate of BLa clearance. I have covered the lactic acid cycle (including the lactate threshold) in much more detail on a video (https://www.instagram.com/tv/CKTJlcuH4Ne/ ) so rather than reiterating what I have done, I will give you the link to watch it. If you are unfamiliar with the lactic acid cycle, check this out. So how do you train around your MLSS threshold?

For training around MLSS, there are a couple of pieces of equipment and data you will need. If you don’t have this, any approximations are wild guesswork. But if you are at least semi serious about mid – long distance events, you’ll probably have them. Firstly you’ll need some heart rate (HR) data, specifically, your maximum heart rate (MHR). There is a method where you subtract your age from 220 (bpm) to give an estimated MHR, but this method is incredibly crude and usually highly inaccurate. A more accurate way to determine MHR is to do a ramp test (such as a VO2, Ramp or step test – not a sprint test such as a wingate) where MHR is achieved. When doing this test, you need to wear a HR monitor (discussed below) and simply record your MHR during the test.

As you probably guessed, the equipment you will require is a HR monitor. Without your MHR data, you won’t be able to accurately determine the intensity you need to be moving at for MLSS training. For your HR monitor, it will ideally be a fairly decent one (not necessarily lab spec but not from a Mcdonalds happy meal either) that fits around your chest / sternum area. This would be preferable to HR monitors on a smart watch (for obvious reasons) but in this instance, something is definitely better than nothing. HR data is what your MLSS training will be based off (as you presumably don’t have access to VO2 kit in a lab environment but if you do, great!).

OBLA itself occurs at approximately 85% of your HR, and 75% of your VO2 max. Reading this, you are probably thinking “fuck, that’s intense”. And you would be correct, it is. So for MLSS training you need to be just under this – Now you see why you need the HR monitor?.

How you approach this will vary depending on proximity to competition, the type of competition you’re prepping for and also the session itself. As the name suggests, MLSS training leans in favour of continuous training and not intervals as the purpose of this training is to maintain high output efforts continuously. However, you could look at long duration aerobic intervals at the same HR intensities outlined. Personally, I would recommend your intervals be focused on higher intensities, and keep your MLSS training for continuous work. Keep the main thing the main thing, and don’t overcomplicate it. Which brings us on to the conclusions nicely.

Cardiovascular training conclusions

And of course, you are going to have to actually do some distance training, that are at least somewhat close to your competition distances (especially for true endurance work). Or at least, clocking up distances (overall volume) similar to that of competition. You don’t need to do this weekly, but you will need to keep yourself ticking over with longer bouts (such as once every 12-20 days). This is also applicable to short – mid distance athletes, but you do have a lot more wiggle room here, and will get a lot out of good interval work (key part here is good…). However, the reasons for the exposure to the longer sessions (distance and duration) are 3-fold. You need to ensure that you are positively adapting in 1) a physiological manner 2) a tissue capacity / biomechanical manner and 3) a psychological manner.

The physiology is simply to ensure that you are ready to compete, and whilst HIIT and threshold training is important (and absolutely should utilised) you still need practise at “doing the thing”. Similarly, tissue capacity and biomechanical capacity needs to be developed, and that will be done by gradual and sensible exposure to increased distances / difficulty of terrain over time. And finally, you need to psychologically prepare for the event. Physical preparation is all well and good, but how can you know how to keep yourself going and pushing through the hard parts with dead legs, the wind battering in your face in an uphill slog if you have never experienced it or put yourself through it?

Now don’t take this as a “you must make your life more difficult to become mentally tough”. That’s largely macho bullshit. But you do need some exposure so that you have some idea what’s ahead of you.

And that concludes part 2 of 4 in the hybrid athlete training articles .In part 3 we will look at resistance training considerations, and also how to structure a training week. Be sure to check back for it!. If you have any questions about concurrent training, then shoot me a message! Or if you want to become a hybrid athlete, get in touch and we can discuss some hybrid athlete coaching!

Until next time

Stay strong

Callum

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A beginners guide to Hybrid training part 1: Physiology and nutrition

To push the envelope on both resistance training and cardiovascular training, is known as concurrent or hybrid training. Examples would be people who engage in strength sports (Powerlifting, weightlifting & strongman) whilst also engage in endurance events such as distance running, cycling, rowing or triathalons.  Often, they will not only engage in the training for these events, but actively compete in both. These people are collectively known as hybrid athlete’s (and mad bastards), That being said, there are people who do it recreationally. Thus, this article series will be aimed at both competitive and non-competitive hybrid athlete’s (or those who are considering it)

The world of concurrent training is both niche and nuanced (and also super fascinating! Although maybe that’s just me..) with some layers of complexity to it that many other sports or training types don’t get. The aim of these articles (there will be 4 in total)  is to 1) help you understand concurrent training on a deeper level and 2) give some practical recommendations which you can apply to become a hybrid athlete from a training, nutrition and recovery perspective. These are big articles, so get a cup of tea or beer and strap in.

As an overview. Article 1 (this one) will cover the physiology underpinning cardiovascular training, strength / resistance training and how they interact with each other when it comes to hybrid training. There will also be some practical recommendations around nutrition and nutritional advice for hybrid athletes. Article 2 will cover some practical training recommendations around the aerobic & endurance training element of hybrid training. Article 3 will look at the resistance training and programming considerations for hybrid training and the final article will conclude with monitoring training and recovery methods & advice for concurrent training. But please remember, these articles are designed to compliment each other, and you will need each one to get a thorough understanding of concurrent training.

If you have ever spent any time in a gym, you may have heard a gym bro saying “cardio kills gains brah”. Looking around the gym, there are plenty of powerlifters / weightlifters who get out of breath tying their shoes, and anything above 5 reps is cardio. Conversely, you have the marathon runner who is a walking lung but built like the side of a fiver.

If you have ever spent any time in a gym, you may have heard a gym bro saying “cardio kills gains brah”. Looking around the gym, there are plenty of powerlifters / weightlifters who get out of breath tying their shoes, and anything above 5 reps is cardio. Conversely, you have the marathon runner who is a walking lung but built like the side of a fiver.

At a glance, you might be inclined to believe that cardio does indeed kill gains. Then you remember the existence of athletes like Rugby players and CrossFit athletes, reminding us that indicating you can get jacked and tanned whilst also still being incredibly fit.  

However, “cardio killing gains” has a modicum of truth to it…kinda. This is due to physiological phenomenon known as “the interference effect” (More on this later – it’s very nuanced) but as a very brief summary: The interference effect is when the body is placed under two different training stressors, causing a conflicting physiological adaptation. The phrase “you can’t ride 2 horses with 1 arse” kinda rings true. But, the biggest problem with the interference effect is not the physiology per say, more that people don’t understand concurrent training or how to minimise it’s effects. Essentially, people don’t know how to programme effectively for it. So I hear you asking “how do you programme for concurrent training?”. Patience padawans. We will get there. We all gon make it.

Before we get into the “how” we can achieve both. We need to understand what happens to our body from a physiological perspective when we focus on each style of training separately (i.e aerobic training & strength / hypertrophy training). With a better understanding of both training types individually, concurrent training as a concept will make more sense. We will kick things off by looking at aerobic training.

Aerobic or cardiovascular training

Aerobic exercise is done to improve your “fitness”. Aerobic training is often referred to as cardio or conditioning. Aerobic fitness can be measured in a number of ways, but 2 of the most popular within endurance & hybrid circles (and by popular, I mean reliable – no one enjoys doing them) is a VO2 max test and a 3-minute critical power test (this one is particularly rank). VO2 max is simply your maximum oxygen consumption during intense or maximal exercise, and is measured in ml / kg-1 / min-1. With VO2, the higher the number the more aerobically trained you are.

Critical power is slightly different, as it is measured on watts (power outputs) which can be normalised to bodyweight, or just outright outputs. A 3 critical power test is an all out effort for 3 minutes, typically on a bicycle ergometer against a fixed resistance. You are essentially getting 2 tests in 1 here. Firstly, you get a Wingate anaerobic test (WAnT – a 30s all out effort) followed by your critical power reading. Your critical power, is the watts outputted in the last 30s of a 3 minute critical power test. Seriously, this test is utterly vile.

The theory is that during the first 2 mins and 30s, you will have depleted pretty much all of your anaerobic substrates, so the outputs are reliant on aerobic metabolism. Thus, giving an indication of fitness. Whilst it doesn’t measure O2 (Oxygen – unless you are hooked up to a gas analyser during the test) it does give some data on aerobic fitness. However, whilst a useful test, many struggle to perform this test due to it’s grim nature. I know a fair few people whom have not managed to complete this test.

So these are 2 methods to measure aerobic fitness, however, there are many more tests for determining aerobic capacity, however that is likely to be a separate article in itself. Keeping things on topic…

What is the purpose in cardiovascular training? . To improve cardiovascular system and aerobic metabolism i.e aerobic pathways for energy during activity or performance. Aerobic capacity underpins all human activity to some extent. If it didn’t, we would die, as we kinda need O2 in our lives. How much O2? Well that entirely depends on what activities you do. The more aerobic your sport or activity (s), the more O2 you need. So adaptations occur in the body from aerobic training?

After prolonged aerobic training, the body undergoes various cardiovascular, neural and muscular adaptations. From a cardiovascular perspective, there is an increase in stroke volume (SV – blood ejected from the heart per beat). When this increase in SV occurs, there is a decrease in heart rate (HR) and resting heart rate (RHR). This occurs simply because of the increase in SV, more blood being pumped per heart contraction means more O2 transportation, therefore the heart doesn’t need to work as hard, so it slows down. This means that HR’s stay relatively lower at rest and during submaximal exercise. There is also an increase in maximal O2 uptake (VO2 Max), and over a prolonged period of time with consistent aerobic training, there is an increase in maximal cardiac output (Q). Q = SV x HR. This is a huge benefit from aerobic training from both a performance and health perspective.

From a neural perspective, the body becomes more efficient at moving, and improves exercise economy (You may have heard of running economy). Basically, the cost of movement from an energy demand is educed. From a muscular perspective, there is a delay in which the onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA) occurs, which is a huge factor in aerobic performance. In short, the longer you delay OBLA, the longer your body can use the lactate it produces as an energy source (I appreciate that Lactate is complex, I have done a video  on Lactate which can be found here – https://www.instagram.com/p/CKTJlcuH4Ne/ ). More information on lactate & hybrid training will appear in subsequent articles.

Aerobic training increases the size (Hypertrophy) of type I muscle fibres. These fibres produce less force (relative to type IIa and IIx) but are highly oxidative in nature and very resistant to fatigue, an advantage for aerobic training & endurance performance. There is also some conversion of type IIx (fibre type with most explosive contractile properties but very susceptible to fatigue) to type IIa, which produce less force than type IIx, but still considerably force more than type I. However, they are a little less susceptible to fatigue than type IIx (But more so than type I – I know, that is a little complicated).  Essentially, type IIa are kinda like the middle ground.

Aerobic training also increases mitochondrial density through mitochondrial biogenesis. I can hear you asking “What the fuck does that mean?” In summary, this increases the efficiency in which ATP (energy) is produced, thus benefitting performance. 

Keeping up? I know it’s a lot to take in, but it’s all important.

Finally, with cardiovascular training there is an increase in CaMKII (calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II) expression, and a downregulation in mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) expression. This is downregulation of mTOR is of particular importance, because mTOR (Alongside various other biological compounds) signal anabolic (muscle building) processes, including protein biosynthesis. Which we know, that protein metabolism is important for both growth and repair. Particularly, when trying to elicit strength, power and hypertrophy adaptations.

Keep all of this in mind and refer back to it if needs be.

Resistance training

Resistance training can be used to develop strength, power and muscular hypertrophy (Muscle gain) and is the key to getting jacked and tanned. I have covered how to achieve hypertrophy in a previous article ( https://stewartathleticdevelopment.com/a-beginners-guide-to-winning-the-hyper-trophy-the-keys-to-getting-jacked-and-tanned/ ) which I would recommend checking out. I won’t go into too much detail on it here, but there are elements I will need to cover for concurrent training.

When we partake in resistance training, there are 2 main changes with occur: Neural adaptations and Structural adaptations. Both of which are important and have a combined impact on strength, power and hypertrophy, but will occur at different rates, which needs to be considered.

Neural adaptations

Neural changes are one of the first adaptations to resistance training. You may be familiar with “beginner gains” where people who are new to resistance training see a large increase in strength very early into lifting. These beginner gains can occur for months, even up to a year before things begin to slow down. We know these adaptations in the first couple of months are largely neural, because structural changes (i.e muscle hypertrophy) takes months to occur (discussed later) even in beginners. But what are neural adaptations?

When we perform any kind of movement, skeletal muscles are sent signals (Action potentials) from the brain via neuron pathways. When we begin lifting, a lot of the movements are very unfamiliar to us and feel difficult. When we practise these movements, they become easier over time. This is because the body becomes more efficient at sending these neural signals to the joints and muscles via neural pathways, which create movement. Over time they learn the pattern and become more efficient throughout the movement and is one of the reasons thinking “movements not muscles” is a far better way of viewing training. From a neural standpoint, there is also an increase in rate coding, which is simply the speed in which action potentials are sent from the brain to the muscles. This becomes very important for strength, max strength and especially important for power training.

Neural adaptations are not just seen in beginners. They can be seen in athlete’s of all levels of experience. However, the more trained the athlete the slower the rate of adaptation becomes, and the magnitude of gains are also decreased.  Athlete’s who are more experienced may (not always) need more frequent changes (but still structured) in exercise selection to ensure the stimulus is consistently high enough to elicit adaptation. Neural adaptations can also occur when utilising variations of certain exercises. This is something strength sport athlete’s are very good at achieving. Examples being powerlifters and weightlifters using non-competition exercises / modalities such as tempo’s, pauses, speciality bars, accommodating resistance etc. Westside barbells Conjugate training (and variations of) are further examples of manipulation of exercises / training styles to elicit neural adaptations (And also structural adaptations).

Structural adaptations

If resistance training is continued over a long period of time, the body will undergo structural changes as well as neural. These structural changes take far longer to develop, but what are these changes specifically? Firstly, we will look at skeletal muscle anatomy.

Structurally muscle fibres are (broadly speaking) divided into 2 types. These are 1) Parallel-fibred muscles, where the length of the fibres are close to the length of the whole muscle and 2) pennate muscles. These pennate muscles are short muscle fibres which are at an angle to the main muscle fibres and connective tissue. This angle is referred to as “pennation angle”. When we get stronger and more powerful, the incline of this pennation angle increases, allowing more force to be produced. Increased pennation angle is also correlated with greater hypertrophy. As we know, a bigger muscle has the potential capacity (but is not always the case – training is an important factor here) to produce more force than a smaller muscle, due to this pennation angle as well as having a greater cross-sectional area (CSA).

 

And of course, from resistance training, we also increase muscular CSA (I,e more lean muscle tissue). The extent to which it occurs will depend on several factors such as nutrition, training and whether it’s a desired adaptation (i.e are you trying to minimise or maximise hypertrophy). As mentioned, I have previously written about hypertrophy in greater detail, so I will not be going into too much detail here, but there are some points I do want to discuss.

Looking at muscle tissue, we know there are 3 types (as a reminder – type I, Type IIa & Type IIx). When we pack on lean muscle tissue, it is typically type IIa (and to a lesser extent type IIx – depending on the training type (discussed in article 2) muscle fibres which grow. Which is great, as you now theoretically can produce more force. However, muscle is a live tissue, and therefore requires O2. The larger the tissue, the greater the O2 requirement to supply blood flow and remove waste products. The hypertrophy of type IIa & IIx muscle fibres, alongside the increase in skeletal muscle tissue itself means that the muscles are more susceptible to fatigue, and will fatigue quicker. This is why someone like a bodybuilder will gas out very quickly on repeated sprint training (as well as not being conditioned for it).

Finally we will look the biochemistry of resistance training. When we lift, and also when we recover from nutritional intake (discussed below) there are biochemical and hormonal signals sent out for growth and repair. These signals cause an upregulation of anabolic compounds (Testosterone, human growth hormone, insulin, insulin-like growth factor-1) and mTOR (A kinase which plays an important role in muscle protein synthesis – which we know is important for building muscle tissue)all of which over time will lead to an increase in lean muscle tissue.

See the problem? aerobic training suppresses mTOR expression while increasing CaMKII & AMPK expression. Whereas resistance training increases mTOR expression. Essentially, a conflict of interest occurs. This is physiological effect is known as the “interference effect” and is where the statement “cardio kills gains” essentially comes from. A broken clock is right twice a day, and occasionally a gym bro will get something right (or at least be somewhat right). Although I would bet you a fiver they couldn’t explain why if you asked them…

Does this mean you can’t get jacked as well as getting fit as f*ck?. No, not at all. You absolutely can. You can absolutely improve your aerobic fitness and get jacked and juicy as well. And not just in a general sense, you can push yourself and boundaries on both training times, concurrently, if you wish. You just need to know how (More on this later). It is not uncommon. Hell if anything, concurrent training and being a hybrid athlete is gaining in popularity. People are bored of one dimensional training, and want to be better rounded from a physical perspective.

But there are some extra considerations and caveats which go into concurrent training. That being said, with some smart programming, training and recovery.. the interference effect is not a big a problem as you may think. But concurrent training is tough going. It is very demanding from a psychological and physical perspective, and will require effort and grit on your behalf.

So where do people go wrong with concurrent training?

As I previously mentioned, one of the biggest issues people face when designing concurrent training (arguably all training – but for the purposes here, concurrent training) is a lack of understanding. Specifically, lacking understanding of the physiology underpinning concurrent training, how to structure concurrent training, the energy and nutritional demands for concurrent training and also how to monitor training loads and recover properly from concurrent training. However, by the end of these 3 articles, you will hopefully have a better idea of what all these factors involve.

So, now that you have a better understanding of the physiology and the science behind concurrent training, we are gonna look at some practical recommendations from a nutritional and training / programming perspective. However, if you want to see just how far concurrent training can be pushed, I recommend checking out Alex Viada and the other coaches at https://completehumanperformance.com/ – these guys are concurrent training guru’s and have achieved some ridiculous things). And even writing this article, my viewpoint’s on concurrent training and the interference effect have changed – So I would definitely recommend you check them out.

Nutritional advice for concurrent training

Nutritional overview

Unsurprisingly, concurrent training has a fairly high energy demand. This is especially true for the cardiovascular training portion of concurrent training. The greater the distance you cover in training, the more energy you need. That’s not to say nutrition for the resistance training portion is less important. Far from it. Both should be taken seriously.

The advice laid out in this article will be fairly simple, but easy to implement.  I will be covering nutrition for athletes in much more depth at a later date, but for this it will be nice and simple. If you are reading this and you are an endurance athlete (but not a concurrent athlete / undertaking resistance training) then a lot of this advice will still apply (also, start bloody lifting!)

When planning your nutrition, you need to have a clear idea of your goals in mind, from both a training and body composition perspective. However, body composition is likely to be less of a concern for concurrent athletes, unless your current composition is hindering performance (e.g carrying too much excess bodyweight). Simply, because your focus is going to be on fuelling performance and maximising recovery, and not your outward physical appearance.

As a broad nutritional overview, you are following the rules of calories in vs calories out (CICO) whether you realise or not. CICO is whats responsible for bodyweight, and inadvertently you will be doing 1 of the 3 things outlined below:

  1. Operating at maintenance calories – your calorie consumption is balanced with calorie expenditure (Both basal activity & exercise) Body weight will remain fairly constant (There will be daily fluctuations from salt, water and hormonal cycles if you’re female, but your average bodyweight will remain consistently )
  2. Operating in a calorie deficit – you are consuming less calories than maintenance, as a result you are losing bodyweight. Severity of deficit will dictate severity & rate of weight loss. Too severe a deficit / calorie restriction will inhibit performance
  3. Operating in a calorie surplus – You are consuming more calories than required to maintain current weight, therefore bodyweight increases. If trying to gain muscle mass, a small surplus is optimal. A large surplus will not increase the rate in which you gain muscle, but it will increase the rate in which adipose tissue (Fat mass) is gained. Too large a calorie surplus can inhibit performance.

The calories themselves will come from the 3 macronutrients which are discussed below, as well as some rough recommendations for nutritional intake

Protein – 4kcal per 1g of protein. Responsible for cellular function and muscle repair and growth. Will produce energy but is not efficient an energy substrate. Recommendations for endurance / concurrent athletes vary depending on the amount of resistance training undertaken, but can vary from 1.8 – 3.5g / kg of lean body mass (2.4g / kg seems to be optimal). If you are in a surplus, you can get away with the lower end of the recommendations (carbohydrates are protein sparing) and if you are in a deficit (not recommended -discussed below to why) you will need to be at the higher end of the scale to retain lean muscle mass. Ideally, spread between 3-5 meals per day, with 20-40g of protein per serving (20g minimum & 2.5mg + of leucine per serving). However, net protein over a prolonged period (e.g 72 hours) appears to be more important. So don’t sweat it if you miss a meal. As long as youre hitting your targets over a few days, you’ll be fine.

Carbohydrates – 4kcal per 1g of carbohydrates. Responsible for providing glucose for energy (through both aerobic and anaerobic metabolism) and also cerebral function. Carbohydrate requirements for athletes vary on the sport. For shorter, faster endurance events (such as 5-10ks etc) you may get away with 5-7g of carbohydrate / kg of bodyweight. For long / ultra distance athlete’s, it could be as high as 12g / kg of bodyweight.

Fats – 9kcal per 1g of fat. Responsible for providing energy through aerobic metabolism and also hormonal production / function and various other processes. For endurance / hybrid athletes intake, no less than 20% of total calories should come from fat (Although this p[retty much applies to anyone). The amount of kcal from fat will be dictated by your overall calorie needs, and also how much kcal are derived from protein and carbohydrates. Personally, I have found 22-27% of total kcal from fat to be fairly successful.

Nutrition in practise

You should be at minimum running around maintenance calories. How you operate at maintenance varies. Some people just like to consume the average maintenance. calories every day, not manipulating or undulating based on the training sessions in the week. Others may calorie cycle between surplus & deficit based on intensity & volume of their sessions. Essentially, they will eat more when training is higher in volume but lower intensity, and eat less when volume is lower but intensity is higher.

Cycling their calories in this manner will often put them at maintenance on average. If you are looking to either gain or lose weight, you can manipulate it as you see fit. It is worth remembering that when gaining weight, you want to at minimum maintain bw / kg outputs. No point gaining weight if you become slower (Applicable to explosive speed i.e sprinting and distance speed as well). However, if you are considering a deficit overall, I would take time to strongly consider why. Because concurrent training in a deficit is going to be infinitely more difficult.

Calorie cycling like this predominantly down to personal preference opposed to some super magic performance benefit. The logic is that you will need more fuel & recovery for the higher volume work, than the intensity work, which makes sense. As an overview, intake wise, you will require: 1) adequate protein to repair muscle tissue 2) adequate carbohydrate intake for energy and to allow recovery of glycogen stores & 3) enough fat for energy & also for hormonal & basal functions in which fat is required. This might seem simplistic, but in the case for the vast majority of cases in concurrent training (and all Strength and Conditioning) it is about mastering the basics.

However, a small surplus may be more beneficial, particularly if hypertrophy is a desired adaptation. By eating in a small surplus (typically 250-500kcal) you are putting yourself in a much better position to put on muscle tissue. Particularly, if you are stimulating muscle protein synthesis (MPS) at multiple times throughout the day. Building muscle isn’t just about calories, but sending the right signals (i.e triggering MPS and other anabolic signals / pathways) enough times to stimulate growth. The other advantage of being in a calorie surplus, is that you can consume more carbohydrates. Carbs actually have a protein sparing effect, so you can actually get away with eating slightly less protein whilst in a surplus, and still gain muscle. The key part here, is slightly.

Overall, by eating in a small surplus (Accounting for the energy expended via training- particularly through long distance endurance training) you are putting yourself in a better chance of building muscle. At the very least, you should be eating at maintenance. This is especially true for long and ultra-distance event athlete’s. If your focus is on shorter endurance events such as 5-10ks or half marathons (and similarly equated distances on bike, rowers etc) you will have a little more wiggle room and could get away with maintenance, or even a small deficit. But, that deficit is going to suck, and you will need to take a closer look at tracking and monitoring training loads and recovery (discussed in coming articles.)

To conclude, nutrition is a huge part in concurrent training for both performance and recovery. Thus, it should be taken seriously if you are looking to become a hybrid athlete. In the next article we will be looking at some practical aerobic training applications, as well as a closer look at the lactate threshold and lactate training, so be sure to check back!

If you have any questions about concurrent training, then shoot me a message! Or if you want to become a hybrid athlete, get in touch and we can discuss some hybrid athlete coaching!

Until next time

Stay strong

Callum